In our Taiwan Communiqué no. 94 (December 2000) we described the events surrounding the cancellation of Taiwan's Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project at the end of October 2000 by Chen Shui-bian's DPP administration. In the aftermath, old guard KMT politicians and the PFP and New Party opposition members in the Legislative Yuan launched a recall campaign against President Chen Shui-bian, leading to a stand-off between the Executive Yuan and the KMT-dominated Legislative Yuan.
The political battle raged through November, December 2000 and January 2001, and brought virtually all other political decision-making to a halt.
There was a glimmer of hope for a solution, when in mid-January 2001 the Council of Grand Justices _ a faint equivalent of the US Supreme Court _ were to pronounce themselves on the legality of the October 2000 decision by the Cabinet to cancel the project. However, the Council showed the courage of a weasel, and didn't get beyond making some mumbling statement that the Cabinet had made a "procedural flaw" by not consulting the Legislative Yuan before making the decision to cancel the construction.
In the end, the Executive Yuan led by Premier Chang Chun-hsiung, decided in early February 2001 that continuation of the stand-off was not in Taiwan's best interest, and agreed to a resumption of the construction of the plant.
Oddly enough, the language of the compromise between the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan included an expression of support for a "nuclear-free Taiwan." How Taiwan is to become nuclear-free by going ahead with a nuclear power plant was not explained. The language also included a reference to the mechanism of a public referendum in resolving future issues, but it remained vague on how and when this would be incorporated into law.
The move to restart construction of the nuclear plant soothed the nerves of the opposition parties in the Legislative Yuan, but caused major dissent among the DPP's faithful, who had been campaigning against the plant for so many years. A major demonstration by some 10,000 people was held on 24 February 2001 to demand a public referendum on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant before the end of the year.
By Edward I. Chen, Professor Emeritus of History, Bowling Green State University, Ohio.
It might be understandable that most of the people of Taiwan, while aspiring to be independent deep in their heart, support the "Republic of China" as a substitute for independence. Rightly or not, they reason that independence would invite an instant attack from China, while peace, however precarious, can be preserved under ROC, which would allow them to go on living business as usual. After all, one of their own, Chen Shui-bian, was elected last year as the president of ROC and his entire administration is built on the legitimacy of the ROC constitution. It makes sense to support A-bian by supporting ROC.
Sadly, in their eagerness to avoid confrontation with China, the people in Taiwan are willing to ignore the fact that ROC, like PRC, regards Taiwan as a part of China. It does not matter which China Taiwan belongs to. As long as Taiwanese themselves are willing to accept the notion that their home island is a part of China, the ultimate unification with PRC would be an inevitable consequence. Taiwan under ROC is like a bird in a cage. The bird may be shielded from an outside attack for a while; but it remains a captive always. When the cage collapses, the bird belongs to PRC! Consider the following facts which explain why the Taiwanese support of ROC would eventually lead our home island down the path of unification with China:
First, to support ROC is to give up the right of self-determination. The essence of self-determination is the ability to choose whatever future Taiwanese desire, including independence. But the ROC constitution clearly stipulates that Taiwan is a part of China. Independence is thus precluded. True, all political parties, including KMT, PFP and the New Party, all of which advocate ultimate unification, give lip service to Taiwanese self-determination. "Taiwan's future must be decided by all the people of Taiwan," they proclaim. But if independence is precluded, what else is there for Taiwanese to choose from? Timing and conditions of unification?
Self-determination is a precious right to freedom officially recognized in the UN Charter. In the post World War II world, millions of people fought with their blood to free themselves from their colonial masters in the name of self-determination. But Taiwanese are lucky. Living in a democracy, they already have that right. It must be safeguarded until such time when China is ready to negotiate with Taiwan on the equal basis. Why give up the precious right even before the negotiation begins? For Taiwan to have the option of independence is the strength, not liability, in dealing with China.
Second, by supporting ROC the Taiwanese have unwittingly transformed their home island into a breeding ground of the unification movement allied with Beijing. First came the "mainland fever." Team after team, Taiwan politicians went for a pilgrimage to Beijing to receive blessing from the Chinese leaders. Then, there is the so-called "small three links," initiated unilaterally by Taiwan in preparation for the "big three links" slated to begin in June 2001, even though China has made it clear that any direct shipping between China and Taiwan will be regarded as "domestic routes under special management." In June, too, Taiwan will open its door to up to 500,000 tourists annually from China. Some politicians also propose to hold the 2008 Olympics jointly with China as one country!
Taiwan's political landscape has drastically changed in the last eight months or so. Then, Taiwan's relation with China was "special state-to-state." Today, Taiwan is a part of "one China based on the ROC constitution." Then, the political catch-phrase was "Taiwanization."
Today, it is "de-Taiwanization." Taiwanese politicians are afraid to admit that they are Taiwanese! Few are willing to support Taiwan independence openly for fear that they will be the targets of smear campaign by the unification forces.
The third fact that Taiwanese must consider is that by supporting ROC they severely restrict Taiwan's living space in the international stage. To be sure, Taiwan commands a great deal of respect and admiration all over the world for its economic success and the peaceful transformation from one of world's most corrupt dictatorships to a democracy. Yet, with the exception of the United States, no one country is willing to help Taiwan's struggle to remain free from China. Beijing's threat of retaliation is, of course, the major factor for the reluctance. But Taiwan's insistence to be regarded as ROC also contributes to its isolation.
The United States is committed to help Taiwan defend itself. Yet nowhere in the Taiwan Relations Act is mentioned a single word of ROC. America's commitment is to the people of Taiwan! When President Clinton decided to accept China's "One-China" doctrine and enunciated the "Three-No" policy regarding Taiwan, he did not believe he did injustice to Taiwan, because he assumed that Taiwan considered itself to be a part of China.
We complain the shabby treatment the United States accorded to President Chen Shui-bian when he was in Los Angeles en route to Latin America last year. But A-bian came as the president of the "ROC", with which the US has severed diplomatic tie for more than 20 years. He has to make up his mind whether he is the president of ROC or Taiwan. In the United States, he cannot be both at the same time.
Similarly, the ROC cannot be admitted to the United Nations, from which it was expelled some 30 years ago. The only chance for Taiwan's UN membership is to be admitted as a new state. But is Taiwan willing to drop the ROC title? There is no guarantee the UN would accept Taiwan; but that is the very first step Taiwan must take, if Taiwan is serious about a UN membership.
What can we, as overseas Taiwanese, do for our native island at this crucial but very confusing time? Three suggestions:
First, let us support the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), the prime organized lobby of Taiwanese in Washington. It has done excellent job in enlisting the support of many Congress-persons who speak up for the Taiwanese right of self-determination. A favorable change in America's Taiwan policy may be the most effective way to persuade the people of Taiwan to support independence.
Second, the year-end election of the Legislative Yuan is crucial. We, of course, want to see more DPP members elected to break the near-monopoly of power of this body by unificationist forces. But, more importantly, we should help elect candidates irrespective of their party affiliation who would speak up fearlessly for the course of independence.
Third, let us lobby the A-bian Administration to implement Taiwanization programs, especially in the fields of education and diplomacy. We must not let A-bian and his DPP take for granted the support of overseas Taiwanese. We support him not just because he is a Taiwanese, but because we know he believes in his heart that independence is best for Taiwan. There is no reason A-bian cannot do what former president Lee Teng-hui did so successfully - Taiwanization.
The present ROC is no substitute for Taiwan independence. But we can use it as the vehicle to pave the foundation for an independent Taiwan without provoking China by carefully and selectively implementing a series of Taiwanization programs.
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